Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Tamil National Forum

Selected Writings - Karthigesu Sivathamby

Peace for National Togetherness
Northeastern Herald, 18 October  2002

Viewing political discussions in Sinhala on television, especially those telecast by private stations, can be a very satisfying experience. In spite of the accusation that private media commercialises television and radio broadcasting, private television and radio channels have fairly open discussions on political issues. Rupavahini and SLBC, the state-run channels, have been pushed to emulate the private stations.

There is however very limited Tamil participation in these programmes. This is evidently due to a) not enough Tamils with sufficient command and fluency in the Sinhala language able to engage in public debate and b) Tamils who participate being very reticent in fear they would be labelled as Tamil racists.

Kumar Ponnambalam, as long as he lived, used to take part in these debates. He had the added advantage of fluency in Sinhala. Another participant who excels in putting forward the Tamil point of view is Abu Yusuf, formally of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) and now a member of TELO.

This however does not mean the Tamil point of view will not be advocated if not for such figures. It is. And those who are at the forefront in this exercise are Dr. Wickramabahu Karunaratne and Vasudeva Nanayakkara and up to a point Dr. Tissa Vithana. And it is a very pleasant, soul-satisfying experience for a Tamil to watch a Sinhalese putting forward the Tamil point of view in such forceful and clear terms.Nanayakkara, Karunaratne and others do not speak in terms of Tamil/Sinhala categories. They speak about it as part of the national question. It is important to put on record that neither of the major left parties of Sri Lanka, the LSSP or the CPSL, popularised the term ‘national question,’ nor have they presented it as a concept for debate in the coalition in which they are working.

We are thus compelled to delve into history to find out how a basic principle of Marxism such as the national question was abandoned. Marxism, like Christianity, is an ideology whose origin and early growth was not indigenous. It could have therefore taken a more objective view of the language and ethnic divide and worked towards a national consensus on these matters than it actually did.

Developments of the post-Second World War era, especially since the 1950s in the international socialist camp led by the Soviet Union, resulted in a situation where governments in African and Asian countries built friendly relations with the Soviet Union though they were intolerant of communist movements in their own countries. India, Indonesia and Egypt are good examples.

Meanwhile, communist parties in these newly liberated countries faced a dilemma as to whether to support or oppose the line taken by their governments, which was to oppose both Americanism as well as communism. The general tendency was for those parties to support governments that were anti-American because they had important roles to play in the Non-Aligned Movement that looked more towards the Soviet Union and China, than towards the USA.

Though no immediate problems were apparent, differences had begun setting in within the left movement. There was a need for local communist parties to give up their militant opposition to the so-called socialist parties in government. In Sri Lanka, there was general dissatisfaction both among Sinhala and Tamil youth because of this. It gradually began to affect left-inclined trade unions too. This not only led to left-oriented trade unions disintegrating, but also for non-Marxist unions affiliated to both the UNP and SLFP beginning to emerge into prominence.

However, the impact of these undercurrents was more severe on the youth than it was on the workers. And the first major breakaway from the traditional left was the JVP. In the case of the Tamil youth, the manner in which the CP and LSSP identified themselves with the SLFP in their opposition to the Dudley – Chelvanayakam Pact in the 1960s and their marches chanting anti-Tamil slogans, left deep impressions. Thus both Sinhala and Tamil youth had sidelined the mainstream left parties on the national question.

I remember the late Bernard Soysa of the LSSP once commenting in the company of members of the Social Scientists Association (SSA) that Marxist academics (who were critical of the volt face of the left movement on the language issue) were carrying on the genuine Marxist tradition.

The JVP became a Sinhala-Marxist organisation, which in the early days was anti-Indian, but not necessarily anti-Tamil. But over the years it began acquiring an anti-Tamil stance, which is very clear now. The Tamil youth movement, though in the beginning stronger in its Tamil consciousness than in adherence to Marxist principles, began to set-up small units that were Marxist oriented. They were of course against traditional left fronts, which were coalitions with non-Marist parties.

EROS, EPRLF and later NLFT considered themselves basically Marxist. What is more, even non-Marxist organisations like the LTTE borrowed concepts like ‘liberation’ and ‘self-determination,’ which were part of the political lexis of Marxism of the day, as guiding principles of their struggle. I believe Dr. Anton Balasingham played a vital role in this matter before he decided to return to Sri Lanka and work with the Tigers.

The short sighted manner in which successive government addressed the language issue made it into an ethnic problem, which was presented as Sinhalese fighting Tamils and vice-versa. In the face of this, traditional Marxism was virtually dead as means of offering a political solution. One should however not fail to mention two Marxist intellectuals Kumari Jayawardene and the late Newton Gunasinghe who took reasoned stands on the need for solving the ethnic problem.

It was in this context that Vasudeva Nanyakkara and Wickramabahu Karunaratne emerged to voice the reasonableness in the Tamil demand for a just and fair solution to the problem. It should be added that Vijaya Dias had also taken a reasoned stand on the matter, though it is Nanayakkara and Karunaratne who were, and are, more vocal in presenting their views.

Their concern for peace is not like that of the NGOs or the donor institutions for whom shouting for peace has become a profession. The importance of Karunaratne and Nanayakkara lies in their emphasis that peace is a necessity for national togetherness. This is in sharp contrast to what other politicians say. For the latter, peace is essential only because war is unaffordable. It is war-weariness that motivates them for peace rather than granting rights to sections of Sri Lanka’s nationals.

If it is realised that a single Sri Lankan state will be viable only if it is rooted in the inalienable rights of all its citizens, both as individuals as well as national groups, the future of this country is not bleak.

The Tamil lobby for peace should take heed of the lonely voices of Nanayakkara and Karunaratne and recognise them for their worth. At a time when there is an explicit struggle being waged by the Tamils for winning their rights as a nationality and as citizens, it is important that cordial relations are maintained with those progressive forces that have been advocating this very theme in times of war.


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